Berlin, Germany August 16, 1944

On this date in 1944, two-and-one-half months after the Allies had landed on the Normandy coast of German-occupied North­western France (Opera­tion Over­lord) and one day after thou­sands of service­men from the U.S. Seventh and French First armies had landed by air and sea on the French Rivi­era in the south­east corner of France (Opera­tion Dra­goon), Adolf Hitler reversed him­self and ordered his troops out of Normandy to a new defense line in North­eastern France on the Somme and Marne rivers. The Franco-Amer­i­can landings on the French Rivi­era (known in France as the Côte d’Azur, or “Azure Coast”), aug­mented by elite British and Cana­dian units, opened a second French front in the pre­sence of British Prime Minis­ter Win­ston Chur­chill aboard a British destroyer. The new front, following on the heels of the gale-induced lost of one of two arti­ficial Mul­berry harbors off the Normandy inva­sion coast and the damage to the great port of Cher­bourg on the near­by Coten­tin Pen­in­sula by German demo­li­tion, pro­vided the Western Allies with addi­tional and sorely needed port facil­i­ties at Mar­seille and Toulon, the former home of the French Marine Nationale.

At his forward headquarters Wolfsschanze (Wolf’s Lair) in Rasten­burg, East Prussia, Hitler stared at his maps table as gloomy news of a second French front in the West began to sink in. To his east the Soviet Army was advancing remorse­lessly in Belo­russia (Bela­rus) and Western Poland toward the Nazi’s capital, Berlin. After their Normandy break­out, Allied infan­try and tanks were sprinting east­ward toward Paris, the French capital. Anglo-Amer­i­can bombers were pul­verizing German cities, indus­trial centers, oil instal­la­tions, and mili­tary tar­gets day and night in their Com­bined Bomber Offen­sive. And now this new, even larger inva­sion force that was sweeping into the south of France. A gloomy Fuehrer looked up from his maps, muttering to senior Wehr­macht officers: “This has been the worst day of my life.” (On Novem­ber 20, 1944, with the Red Army just 9 miles away, Hitler quit Wolf’s Lair for good.)

Over the next two months the Allied advance north­ward from the Medi­ter­ranean coast through the French Rhône Valley pushed the Germans toward their own border. The advance came to a halt at the foot­hills of the Vosges Moun­tains in Eastern France due to lack of fuel. There Lt. Gen. Alexander Patch’s U.S. Seventh Army linked up with Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army moving east from Nor­mandy, to become part of Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower’s Euro­pean Theater com­mand. In their Vosges Moun­tain for­tress, the toughest ter­rain on the West­ern Front, retreating Wehr­macht soldiers were ordered by Hitler to stand and fight.

The Vosges Mountains campaign is notable for the rescue of “The Lost Bat­talion,” the 1st Bat­talion, 141st Regi­ment, which was sur­rounded by German forces on Octo­ber 24, 1944. In five days of battle, from Octo­ber 26 to Octo­ber 30, the legend­ary 442nd Regi­mental Com­bat Team, a unit com­posed of mostly second-genera­tion Japa­nese Amer­i­cans (Nisei), managed to break through German infan­try and artill­ery defenses, charging up steep, slippery slopes, firing from the hip, lobbing hand grenades into dug­outs, many of them shouting “Make! Make! Make!”—“death” in Hawaiian. Enemy sur­vi­vors fled in dis­array. Roughly 230 of the “lost” soldiers were rescued while their rescuers suffered over 800 casu­al­ties. (The 442nd is con­sidered to be the most-deco­rated infan­try regi­ment in the history of the U.S. Army. Its record-setting dec­o­ra­tion count earned it the nickname “Purple Heart Battalion.”)

The Allied victory in the monthlong Vosges slug­fest freed Patton to focus on driving east to the Rhine River and striking into the German heart­land. Hitler, how­ever, had one last ace up his sleeve, which he played in the Ardennes Forest of Bel­gium and Luxem­bourg, site of the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944/early 1945. It was Germany’s last-ditch effort to stop the Allied advance into Germany proper, and it failed.

Japanese American Contributions to Winning the War in Europe

442nd Regimental Combat Team in France, late 1944442nd squad leader on alert, France, late 1944

Left: Riflemen of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team slog their way along a muddy French logging road in the Cham­bois sector of the Vosges Moun­tains in Octo­ber 1944. The newly formed Nisei 442nd Com­bat Team left the States on May 1, 1944, and landed at Anzio, Italy, on May 28. In August the unit took part in Opera­tion Dra­goon, the inva­sion of South­ern France, and traveled 500 miles up the Rhône Valley, by walking and by rail, until Octo­ber 13, when it reached the Vosges Moun­tains. On Octo­ber 23 the unit, whose motto was “Go for Broke” (craps game lingo for “shoot the works”) was ordered to rescue the “lost bat­talion” of 141st “Alamo Regi­ment” of the 36th (Texas) Division. It cost the 442nd 800 casualties to rescue 230 men.

Right: A 442nd squad leader from F Com­pany looks through cold mist for German move­ments in a French valley 200 yards away, Novem­ber 1944. The 442nd was the most deco­rated unit for its size and length of ser­vice in the his­tory of Amer­i­can war­fare. Its mem­bers—in total, about 14,000 men—received 18,143 awards, including 9,486 Purple Hearts for a com­pos­ite Purple Heart rate of a stag­gering 68 per­cent. The unit was awarded an unpre­ce­dented eight Presi­dential Unit Cita­tions. Twenty-one of its mem­bers were awarded Medals of Honor, including future U.S. sena­tor Daniel Inouye (1924–2012) of Hawaii. The men of the 442nd Regi­mental Com­bat Team accounted for just over 40 per­cent of the Japa­nese Amer­i­cans who served in the U.S. mili­tary in World War II. Many who served had family mem­bers back home incar­cer­ated in U.S. govern­ment intern­ment camps for the dura­tion of the war. In 2012 France made all sur­viving mem­bers of the 442nd che­va­liers (knights) of the French Légion d’Hon­neur, the highest French order of merit for mili­tary and civil dis­tinc­tion, for their actions con­trib­u­ting to the lib­er­a­tion of France and their heroic rescue of the Lost Battalion.

President Obama authorizes Congressional Gold Medal award, October 2010Go for Broke Monument, Los Angeles, California

Left: When President Harry S. Truman wel­comed the return home of the 442nd Regi­men­tal Com­bat Team (Nisei recruits raised on Hawaii and the main­land) and its “big brother” com­po­nent, the 100th Infan­try Bat­talion (Nisei soldiers from Hawaii who had enlisted or been drafted before the war began), he said: “You not only fought the enemy, but you fought pre­ju­dice and you’ve won.” On Octo­ber 5, 2010, Presi­dent Barack Obama signed a bill granting the Con­gres­sional Gold Medal col­lec­tively to the 442nd Regi­men­tal Com­bat Team and the 100th Infan­try Bat­talion in recog­ni­tion of their dedi­cated ser­vice during World War II. The award was also extended to the 6,000 Japa­nese Amer­i­cans who served in the Military Intelligence Service during the war.

Right: The Go for Broke Monument in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, Cali­for­nia com­memo­rates the 33,000 Japa­nese Amer­i­cans who served in the U.S. mili­tary during World War II—the famed 100th In­fan­try Bat­talion and 442nd Regi­mental Com­bat Team, as well as lesser-known Nisei units: the Mili­tary Intel­ligence Service, the 522nd Field Artil­lery Bat­talion, the 232nd Com­bat Engi­neer Com­pany, and the 1399th Engin­eering Con­struc­tion Bat­talion. “Go for Broke!” was the unit motto of the 100th Bat­talion and was adopted by the 442nd RCT. It has since been adopted as a motto for all the Japanese American units formed during World War II.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Rescue of “The Lost Battalion”